Research

Here is a recent summary of my research that I wrote when I applied for graduate faculty status at the college of information sciences and technology. It operates at a high level — cutting across a number of projects attempting to link them together as a chain — and it does not account for some of my more recent work on food insecurity on college campuses and support systems for alternative economies. But it gets the gist of my goals as a research across, and so I offer it here in all of its glory and with all of its shortcomings:

Summarizing my research interests requires a brief summary of generative metaphor. Drawing on the work of Donald Schön, I define generative metaphors as those that “generate new perceptions, explanations, and inventions” (1979). The project of generating new ways of seeing (the world, the role of design, and so on) undergirds all of my research projects.

My published studies of theory use and knowledge claims in HCI and design research in part aim to expose new ways of understanding the role/function of theory in scholarly communication and the unique ways researchers in different fields make knowledge claims, respectively. Similarly, my work on citation function aims to unpack the complex, often tacit meanings associated with citations and their role in scholarly communication. Moreover, I aim to explore the evolving role of citations with regard to emergent forms of scholarly communication (e.g. technological artifacts, pictorials, videos, and so forth).

My academic background informs a predominantly humanistic approach to HCI and design research, which means that, in addition to social scientific methodologies and methods, I make use of interpretive theory and scholarly essays as means of doing research. My approach stems from a twofold interest in (1) demonstrating the novel perspectives and insights that come from applying humanistic lenses in HCI research and (2) revealing generative insights about familiar concepts in the field.

For example, in a full paper published in the proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing, the top-tier, flagship conference in the field, I argue that the theory-practice gap is a generative metaphor and that, thus, the relationship between theory and practice can be interpreted and described in different ways. Moreover, I suggest that these new ways of interpreting the relationship lead to novel research questions and knowledge production. For example, rather than looking for new ways to “bridge the gap” theory and practice, we might exploit existing synergies and connections?

Similarly, I am using critical discourse analysis (CDA) to analyze how people reproduce power relations on the r/Blind subreddit. My aim is to examine the tensions in what I argue is a taken-for-granted word in assistive technology research: independence. Categorizing groups of people as independent (and dependent) has concrete, real-world consequences that contribute to existing social inequalities. These inequalities can be reproduced (or resisted) both by the people these words describe and by HCI and design researchers. The purpose of this analysis is to challenge a dominant narrative by drawing attention to it and designing strategies for resistance

As a design researcher, of course, my work does not stop at these sorts of insights. It is imperative to take the next step of designing (or redesigning) things in order to bring about a preferred future state of being in the world. It becomes important to capture that preferred state somehow, and it is at this stage that narrative assumes a prominent role in my research.

One way to answer the question of what design as an act of resisting dominant narratives might look like, is to craft a compelling story describing a setting, characters, and a plot driven by an inciting incident (conflict) and culminating in some kind of resolution brought about by a novel design concept. So, on the one hand, story in the form of scenarios and design fictions helps advance my design research work. A challenge, however, is that story is a craft that requires deliberate practice. What makes for a good story? What sort of technological tools exist to support and promote the creation of good, compelling stories? 

A core message that I want to communicate is that my research interests cut across many different topics of study. Digital storytelling is relevant to community organizing, activism, and context-aware computing. Critical theory informs research on assistive technology, educational technology, and aging, among others. And I have yet to encounter a research project where the notion of problem framing does not add some value. I am confident that my research interests would be engaging and informative to the broader community of scholars and grad students at your university : )

References

Schön, D. (1979). Generative Metaphor: A Perspective on Problem-Setting in Social Policy. In Metaphor and Thought (Second Edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 137—163